Monday, July 27, 2009

Cactus Flower

So last night instead of writing a blog post, I watched Cactus Flower, the movie that marked Goldie Hawn's first major film role and only Academy Award win.

And it is hysterical. Awesome. Wonderful.

And I'm at a loss over whether or not I'd categorize it as a feminist (or even feminist-friendly) film.

It doesn't pass the Bechdel Test.

But it does have two complex, three-dimensional, flawed and amazing women characters. Who talk to each other. And genuinely seem to like one another. And who, as odd as it may seem, respect each other.

Their relationship is built upon a false premise, namely that Ingrid Bergman is the wife of Walter Matthau, who keeps Goldie Hawn as a girlfriend/mistress.

That relationship turns out to be less tangible than the other relationships in the film, like the romantic ones. And yet, that isn't enough to make it patently not feminist. Passing the Bechdel Test would be nice, and far too many movies fail.

The movie has a lot of what would be considered cliches now (I'm not sure if they were or not in 1969 when the movie premiered). Walter Matthau doesn't recognize how he feels for Ingrid Bergman until she undergoes a Miraculous Transformation, physically, and is out with other men having a good time and reneging on her staid persona. Goldie Hawn inadvertently helps fan the flames of romance between her lover/fiance and his fake wife by sending her a mink stole and arranging for Matthau to take Bergman home. Goldie Hawn only recognizes her feelings for her (guy) neighbor when he flirts and dances with Ingrid Bergman. It contains the same old tripe about how all women want to get married, all men don't, and all men lie to get women. Oh, and perhaps the worst one of all, where a totally awesome woman ends up with a schmuck, because she loves him and knows there's more to him than meets the eye - even though his last relationship only ended because the woman told his lover that he was lying liar who lies and who still couldn't come clean in the end about what a douche he'd been to everyone involved in their little saga.

Something like that has, lately, been enough to make me throw my hands up in disgust and write the movie off as nothing worth my time - and could I please have the hours I spent watching 27 Dresses and Made of Honor back?

But there's still something about it that seems fresh, and yet vaguely Shakespearean. It could be that Ingrid Bergman can really act. It could be that Goldie Hawn really is incredibly adorable. It could be that Walter Matthau is a bit of an idiot and doesn't seem to recognize that Goldie would probably be happiest if he would just show up when he said he would for their dates, and doesn't, actually, need a proposal. Who knows, it could be just the Monkees music without the lyrics. But I think it is the strong women. I think it comes down to the writing making damn sure we know there is more to Toni Simmons (Goldie Hawn) than just a blonde who is willing to sleep with a married man. It makes sure we know that Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman) deserves to be respected. And because it acknowledges the craziness of life in a well-written way. When Toni offers, "A man who lies cannot love", Stephanie shoots back, "That sounds like something out of a fortune cookie". And a movie that is well-written, that is wittily written, deserves to be watched.

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